For people browsing VPN services, Private Internet Access makes a very strong case for itself. It is highly regarded by reviewers and experts and often rated among the top 10, if not top 5, options available on the market. But what really sets it apart from the other top VPN services is its very affordable price, which can go as low as $2.91 a month.
That combination of high regard and little money is quite an intriguing proposition. Let’s dive in.
The Server Network, Server Switches, and Bandwidth
Private Internet Access, or PIA for short, runs over 34 hundred servers in 48 locations across 30 countries. Thirty is not the highest count by any measure, especially for what are considered to be top tier VPN providers. But its server network includes most of Europe, which, in addition to its presence in North American, covers the most sought-after content markets.
The biggest absentees, however, are Russia, China, the Middle East, and the whole of the African continent.
- Americas: Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the United States
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom
- Oceania: Australia and New Zealand
- East Asia: Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Singapore
Unlimited bandwidth and server switches are there as to be expected.
Platforms & Simultaneous Connections
PIA covers all the major platforms; There are apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS devices, in addition to browser extensions for Chrome, FireFox, and Opera. PIA also offers detailed setup guides for DD-WRT, Tomato, and PfSense routers.
The service allows for 5 simultaneous connections as well – five is roughly the average for any respectable VPN service providers.
Private Internet Access permits access to P2P file-sharing networks and torrenting, and does not limit torrenting to specific servers.
PIA can run on 3 VPN protocols, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and PPTP, depending on the device you are using it on.
OpenVPN is an open source, robust software that is generally recommended “for the most security-conscious”. It is reliable and supports a great number of strong encryption algorithms and ciphers.
L2TP/IPsec is typically used when newer protocols aren’t supported – think old hardware – or in cases where security isn’t a major concern. The protocol is also suitable for bypassing government and ISP firewalls. It is not generally recommended unless necessary.
PPTP is the oldest and least secure of the bunch. It is only used when security is not an issue.
For a more detailed review of each protocol be sure to check our Guide to VPN Protocols.
The one thing missing here is IKEv2/IPsec, which is typically available along with the above mentioned 3 in most VPNs. IKEv2/IPsec has very strong cryptographic algorithms and keys and is usually default in iOS and Mac OS apps.
Location & Logs
PIA is based in Indiana, USA.
It does have a zero logs policy. Meaning that even if it were asked to submit information, it wouldn’t be able to. We must point out though that the US government can impose warrants and gag orders on any firm located on its territories. This means that PIA could be ordered to start retaining data and hand it over when asked. What’s worse, the gag order means that it would be forced to stay silent about the whole deal.
Heard of PRISM? The NSA? The CIA? Or the Five Eyes surveillance alliance? Respectively, those are an infamously scandalous surveillance program, the world’s most notorious surveillance apparatus, an intelligence agency implicated in shady operations and dealings too many to count, and a secretive global data sharing alliance.
This is obviously to say that the US is not the greatest choice to base a VPN company. But despite all of that, and to be fair, this does not necessarily mean that the service is insecure. So far, there have been no cases where PIA was found to be leaking data.
IPv6 & DNS Leak Protection
PIA also offers IPv6 leak protection and DNS leak protection. It disables IPv6 traffic when connected through the VPN, which ensures that no IPv6 traffic leaks out over a user’s normal internet connection.
PIA uses its own private DNS servers to ensure that DNS requests are routed through the VPN. This enables a greater level of privacy and security but may cause some connectivity issues in non-standard network configurations. DNS leak protection can be disabled in the Windows application, but it is enabled by default on the macOS application.
The Kill Switch acts as a fail-safe for when a VPN connection drops. Without a kill switch, communications automatically default back to your original IP. With the switch on, the connection block when the VPN connection drops and reactivated when the VPN connection is reestablished.
MACE is a proprietary system developed by Private Internet Access that blocks malware, trackers, and ads while you are connected to the VPN.
PIA’s interface on macOS is slightly unusual. The window is only present when you need to log in, and pops back again when you enter settings. The way to interact with PIA is through the macOS menu bar, that’s the top bar on the screen.
The login/settings screen contains many toggles: options to start the application at login, auto-connect on launch, and so on. It also allows users to choose the way servers are displayed: either by country, in which the service chooses a server for you, or by region, which displays all the server locations within in each country.
In advanced settings, users can toggle the connection type (UDP/TCP), remote ports, encryption ciphers, handshakes, in addition to other options seen in the image below.
PIA is fast to connect. On average, it took about 3 to 4 seconds to connect with every server I tested. Its impact on traffic speed was less impressive though. I ran tests for servers in the US, the UK, Italy, and India. The European servers – UK and Italy – fared very well in the tests. The other two were disappointing.
Download speed was reduced by:
- 39.7% in the US
- 6.35% in the UK
- 6.69% in Italy
- 37.79 in India
Upload speed was reduced by:
- 20.27% in the US
- 16.21% in the UK and Italy
- 38.73 in India
Support is a commonly cited weakness for PIA. There is no live chat, just email. PIA’s email support isn’t slow though, but it is still email support – you will have to wait to for a response. My experience with their support was satisfying. They responded to my query a few hours after I had contacted them. For email support, that’s a good response time. But the lack of instant live chat is almost unforgivable.
Price & Verdict
PIA offers unbeatable prices. As seen below, it can go as low as $2.91 a month, but that’s perhaps too long a plan. Still, the yearly and monthly prices are very affordable.
Should you buy it? Well, this is a hard one to call. Throughout my use, the service was flawless. Speeds are ok, setup was very easy, the interface took a bit of getting used to, but over time you’ll realize that designing the service in such a way that it is entirely usable from a drop-down menu in the menu bar is actually a great idea. The obvious caveat here is the somewhat limited global reach of its network. Overall, for the price, I think it is worth it.
Also, don’t forget to check out the rest of the great VPN services that we’ve reviewed
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